Challenging the Coed Standard: A Single-Sex Education Makes all the Difference for Girls

It’s time to challenge the coeducation standard. The evidence supporting the benefits of all-girls schools is abundant.

A new report comparing all-girls high school environments to coeducational institutions provides clear evidence that—from academics to personal aspirations—the impact of the all-girls experience positively permeates a girl’s life at rates coeducational environments simply cannot match. At a time when real and resounding inequities remain between women and men in the workforce—from pay disparity to significant leadership gaps in nearly every industry—the report provides compelling evidence that girls’ schools offer a worthy solution.

Steeped in Learning: The Student Experience at All-Girls Schools analyzed the responses of nearly 13,000 high school girls attending all-girls schools, coeducational independent schools, and coeducational public schools to the 2013 High School Survey of Student Engagement. According to the survey [conducted by the Center for Evaluation & Education Policy at Indiana University], girls attending girls’ schools are more likely to have an experience that supports their learning than are girls attending coeducational schools. In particular, students at all-girls schools report:

  1. Having higher aspirations and greater motivation.
  2. Being challenged to achieve more.
  3. Engaging more actively in the learning process.
  4. Participating in activities that prepare them for the world outside of school.
  5. Feeling more comfortable being themselves and expressing their ideas.
  6. Showing greater gains on core academic and life skills.
  7. Being and feeling more supported in their endeavors.

Among the most striking results detailed in this study is the effect the all-girls environment has on a girl’s personal aspirations. Virtually all girls within an all-girls environment expect to earn a four-year degree; two-thirds expect to go on to graduate-level work. This is compared to under 40% of coeducational public school girls with graduate school expectations.

Such higher personal aspirations are likely influenced by the educators and classes girls attend while at school. More than 75% of girls in all-girls schools report their classes challenge them to achieve their full potential and that they gave their maximum effort in their classes. This was higher than both coeducational independent and public schools, with public coed schools faring the worst with just under 40% reporting that their classes challenge them to their full potential.

The majority of our girls deserve better from their education. How can we hope to raise the profile of women if we cannot push them to reach their full potential in the classroom? Confidence grows out of experience and our girls are simply not getting enough practice.

The girls’ school girls also report higher levels of confidence in a wide variety of academic areas compared to their coeducational peers including writing, speaking, critical thinking, reading, teamwork, and independent learning abilities. In sum, they are more personally engaged and successful in their learning and they report higher levels of support from both their fellow students and teachers.

The difference for girls in these educational environments is dramatic and the impact of educating even more girls in this way could help balance our social and political landscape, enabling women to claim their talents in a world that needs them to do so. Imagine a world where all women receive an education that unleashes their true potential.

A study released last month by University of Massachusetts at Amherst states that when women make up the majority of a group in an educational environment – specifically in the sciences – they are “more likely to worry less, feel confident and also to speak up and actively contribute to solve the problem at hand.” Another study at UCLA found that, even when accounting for self-selection biases, graduates of girls’ schools enter college with more confidence in their mathematical and computer skills, a greater interest in engineering careers, a greater propensity to become involved in extracurricular activities, an enhanced interest in political and civic engagement, higher SAT scores, and generally a more intellectual orientation towards the purpose of college, according to the researcher.

With this supporting research and thousands of successful girls’ school graduates as living proof, we now have clear evidence that the coeducational high school environment needs to be challenged.

An all-girls education is a choice made by families because they value the extraordinary benefits of this learning environment.


Trudy Hall, Board President, National Coalition of Girls’ Schools and Head, Emma Willard School

Megan Murphy, Executive Director, National Coalition of Girls’ Schools

One thought on “Challenging the Coed Standard: A Single-Sex Education Makes all the Difference for Girls

  1. Ed Littler says:

    When I was in grade school, though we had a league champion team, we lost tidily to an all-girls school in basketball. The single gender model sure makes a difference.

    Like

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